Lew Wolff and John Fisher have owned the Oakland Athletics since 2005. In that time the team has enjoyed great successes including four post season berths and a sole season at the bottom of the division. During that same time, the Oakland Athletics Ownership Group have alienated themselves from what may be the most patient fan base in all of baseball, if not all of sports.
I have, on many occasions, come to the defense of Lew Wolff when certain fans insist that the team be run as a non-profit, public-good, entity instead of a business. I also have a history of being very critical of the business practices that have dominated one of the most storied and celebrated franchises in the sport for the past decade. It is now time to tell Mr. Wolff that enough is enough; you owe us all an explanation.
What does Lew Wolff need to explain? His plans. Plain and simple we, as devoted fans, deserve to know what the future holds for our beloved team. The fans are like share holders in that we invest the money into the team and want to see some type of return on that investment. It’s time for you to tell your shareholders what’s up, Mr. Wolff.
The relocation process is all but dead. With the exception of attempts in Fremont several years ago, no real effort has been made publicly to remedy the stadium issue. San Jose, a very public project that has yet to gain any real traction, has never been an option and, I believe, has never been the “Plan A” for Lew Wolff. With all of the power and influence Lew Wolff has, especially during the tenure of Bud Selig as baseball commissioner, it is idiocy to believe that Lew Wolff couldn’t “get it done” in San Jose if he truly wanted it. The only progress we have in regards to a south bay stadium are some concept drawings and a plot of land that he could easily develop into anything he wanted.
There are a handful of incredibly vocal and passionate fans who insist that Lew Wolff wants nothing more than to leave Oakland. This is fallacy. Mark Davis, owner of the Raiders, has been rumored to be in talks with San Antonio, has come up with a deal in Los Angeles and is now being talked about as an alternative to the Rams in St. Louis. If your neighbor on the right said he wanted to move but never spoke with a real estate agent or visited an open house and the neighbor on the left was putting the down payment on a new home, who would you believe was moving?
So what do I think Lew Wolff is doing? He’s waiting. As Damon Bruce said on our podcast last week, Lew Wolff has plenty of time to wait. He is a real estate genius and he is fully aware that as long as the land exists, it only becomes more valuable. He also knows that if he stays silent he won’t have to get involved with the tension surrounding the Raiders and the city of Oakland.
Lew Wolff, get involved in those tensions. Come out next week and say, “look at these drawings! We can build this park on this land for this amount of money in this many years and we can start today if the Raiders leave this land.” or if you’re not willing to play hardball, ironically, come up with a plan that includes the Raiders but I assure you, Mr. Wolff, you are not a part of any proposal they will be bringing to the table.
Stadium issue aside, there is a growing sentiment that Lew Wolff is trying to turn away the fans in an attempt to better his argument that Oakland is not a suitable city for a baseball team. While I do not believe this is the case, the powers that be are doing very little to convince me that I’m correct.
I live in San Jose and every bus has a Giant’s banner. There are billboards and radio commercials and TV spots and ads on social media. The A’s, on the other hand, have an award winning ad campaign that is only seen during games on CSN and have so little presence in the bay area that an alien landing here would have no idea there was a second baseball team in this market.
When I go into bars during the baseball season, I’m lucky if I see the A’s game on but you can be sure I can watch the Giants games on 15 televisions no matter how badly they’re playing that year. Lew Wolff needs to come to the realization that there is a market for his team here and that it is going to be the market that sustains his team for decades to come. It is time to embrace the public at large and let them know that there are exciting things happening in the Oakland Coliseum 81 nights out of the year.
Ratings for televised games aren’t low because nobody cares, they’re low because you’re competing with a team that has substantial regional marketing and a handful of World Series rings in their jewelry box. You don’t need to win a championship to compete with those guys (although it would certainly help) but you do need to invest in some good public relations, advertise the excellent product you produce year after year after year and get people excited about one of the most consistently exciting teams in the game.
If Lew Wolff truly wanted to kill the fan base, we wouldn’t be witness to the broadest radio coverage the A’s Radio Network has likely ever seen, we wouldn’t be watching games on CSN almost every night which feature two beloved broadcasters, we wouldn’t have Billy Beane as our GM despite never bringing home a championship, and we wouldn’t be able to get bleacher seats for $10 on a Tuesday night. Lew Wolff isn’t trying to run fans out of town, he’s just doing nothing to attract them into town.
So, what do I demand of Lew Wolff? I just want to be kept in the loop. I spend hundreds of my hard earned dollars on this team every single year. I spend countless hours working on this site and reading the work of some of the finest columnists in the game (I’m talking about you, Slusser). If you open my drawers, you’ll find more A’s shirts than non-A’s shirts, I collect your bobbleheads, I follow your tweets and I vote for your players in silly off-season beauty contests. I’m invested in this team and, from time to time, I’d like to know that the ownership is just as invested.
I know, deep down, that they want to succeed. To anyone that says Lew Wolff just wants to collect his profit sharing money and keeping the team in a crappy facility is the means to an end, I say you’re an idiot. Wolff is gladly collecting that money now but if you think for a second he wouldn’t give it all back to make twice as much or more, I’ve got some property in Jack London Square that’s tailor made for you. The problem is, nobody really knows what he wants. This is a business investment that he is making a sizable return on but that return could be astronomically larger if he would just play his cards right.
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The Oakland Athletics are not a real estate venture and they never will be. They are a tradition and a legacy that families pass down to their youth and we, as your largest investors, want to know that the legacy is in good hands. We don’t need to see sketches of the new ballpark or get timelines on development, we just want you to come out and say, “I’m working on a new stadium in *fill in the town* and we hope to start it *fill in the date*”. Stop playing political games and just be upfront with the fans, the athletes, the politicians and anyone else with an interest in the team. If you want to move to Portland, tell us now and get it over with.
Further, we’d like to see some reinvestment into the team that you own. Year after year we have to sit back and wait to see how Billy Beane is going to make a contending team with the small budget he is given. Give the guy a break. Just once, let him have twice as much money and just see what he can do. Give him one season. I promise you, the investment will more than pay for itself.
Lastly, advertise during Modern Family. Enough with showing commercials during A’s games, we’re already watching. The target demographic for an ad is people not already buying your product. It really doesn’t cost a lot of money to run advertisements on local network affiliates and the return on that investment could be huge. Year after year we enjoy some clever and funny commercials that nobody outside of the die hard fans get to see. Put that on during a popular television show and remind people that there is a team with real personality and a tradition of excellence within one short Bart ride of their house.
Lew Wolff, it’s time to be honest with the fans and help rebuild a legacy that has been fractioned into those who hate you, those who love you and, like me, those who can justify some of what you do but are dumbfounded by the rest.